Once again Gary Phillip’s men stood toe-to-toe for 90 minutes against genuine promotion contenders to succumb to a single goal.
The ‘realpolitik' is that Grays are not being stuffed, which is good news for the goal difference. It may well come down to that on April 25th. With the others all struggling, games like this are all about damage limitation.
The team are fighting like terriers. The defence was solid apart from the odd lapse including the fatal one by debutant Tony Dinning who, standing on the penalty spot in the 40th minute failed to control the ball, let it spin from the underside of his boot to the path of the predatory Scott Rendell who blasted it under the body of Steve Arnold to secure the three points.
Grabbing a player such as Rendell on loan is vital. His class and movement means Cambridge can play a 4-3-3 formation and the consistency of selection means the players have that honed telepathy that Grays cannot possibly match.
But they had a good try and the 300 Grays fans (454 visiting) would have admired the application of the team.
Ishmael Welsh scared them to death. The former West Ham trainee signed for Grays to put his career back into motion. While former Academy alumni such as Chris Cohen have gone on to Nottm Forest, his career stalled but anyone who saw his run in the 28th minute from the half way line and into the box until upended by Cambridge will see the quality of the player. The referee thought it was outside the box. Barry Cogan (who had a wretched night with the dead ball) put the ball over tamely.
Andy Pugh worked very hard. His ablilty to shield, turn and deliver are excellent. What he doesn’t have is an out and out striker to feed. Jamie Slabber is working hard but playing the two together leaves the game short.
Arnold continues to frustrate. A great smother save in the 34th minute. He dominates the area but his kicking simply hands territory to the opposition. His calling is suspect as well.
In the 50th minute, Rob Gier crossed from the right to Pugh who produced a wonderful arced header that fell just to the right of Danny Potter’s goal. Minutes later Ish Welsh’s shot from outside the area hit the side netting.
Stuart Thurgood produced an artisans performance, ekeing out free kicks here and there, gainign territory, hussling and closing down and making Cambridge go wide.Again a Welsh shot hit the side netting.
In the 58th minute, George Beavan produced a clumsy challenge on Dan Gleeson. The referee Mr Sheldrake produced the second red and George was off.
Cambridge had their chances with Holdroyd twice going close while Arnold doing well to turn a Steve Challinor shot around the post in the 85th minute while sub Kenny Davis could have equalised in the last minute as he sneaked around the back but agonisingly it went wide.
Grays have to face many of the top teams but none of them will be on-fire and as assertive as Cambridge. Points can be taken. They also have the cojones for a good old-fashioned dog-fight against the fellow drop candidates which makes Saturday’s game against Forest Green so attractive.
It's a shame to see what must have been less than 300 Grays supporters there - but that's an issue to be debated after April 25th. For now, the battle goes on.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report